The Culture Of Service
Culture is imperative in guiding everyday life decisions. So important in fact, that behavior secondary to culture becomes almost instinctual. It is the quiet voice in our mind that chooses everything from what we buy to how we treat the person pouring our drinks.
I typically try to avoid politically charged topics like the plague. However, recent events have got my mind buzzing and I realized that avoiding the topics are what creates a culture of complacency in the first place. Complacency is dangerous…as evidenced by… I dunno… the entirety of world history perhaps. The powerful shake-up caused by the recent #metoo movement has given me hope that if we can move to rapidly change our culture from one of blaming the victim to one of addressing the behavior, then there is so much to hope for. So, in this tiny blog, I hope I am doing my own small part to add to a collection of voices that are working to share knowledge, because knowledge can change beliefs and beliefs form culture. Let’s talk about how we (mis)treat public servants.
This topic arises because so many of my customers at the distillery are also part of the “service industry”. These are the fine folks who serve us meals, protect us from crime, heal us when we are sick, pick up our garbage, and drive us places…just to name a few. Public service jobs account for an incredibly large part of the economy and wonderfully enough… they do things that we either can’t or don’t want to. Hooray! Because I would make a terrible kindergarten teacher… The vast majority of these people are good at their jobs, and genuinely care about their service (a lot of them work for tips so service is tied to paying the mortgage). So, at what point did it become culturally acceptable to treat them like something we stepped in.
I stood behind the counter at the distillery on a recent Saturday night and leaned in to a few stories being exchanged by industry members who were for the time being, enjoying being on the other side of the counter. I was instantly incensed by one story in particular, queuing my own personal horrible flashbacks in service and nursing (mentally competent grown man shits on floor wiping it all over, then demands I clean it up while recording me on his phone…. just to name one.) The part that was most disappointing is that her story was only unique in the details, as many others were able to chime in with an account of their own, or a head nodding in understanding. Everyone deserves to be treated with a basal level of dignity, and having a dirty napkin thrust at you by someone commanding you to wipe off their feet (after spilling on their self) is completely unacceptable.
Right here... in this moment… is where the paradigm sticks for the public service worker, something faced by most of them on a daily basis, sometimes several times a day. The choice is clear, preserve some small shred of your self-worth and address the shitty behavior, or bite your tongue. It is a lose-lose situation and the culture nurtured in the service industry is reliant on appropriate behavior by those receiving the service (not exactly a guarantee). This person can stick up for themselves and risk catching heat from their employer while kissing goodbye any chance for being paid for their service with a tip (and yes, getting paid is exactly what it is, but more on this later)… or they can bend down, wipe up the foot, and die a little inside. Unless of course I’m seated next to this table, in which case there is option #3, have the crazy stranger at the next table tell this person what a complete ass they are being while you look on with equal parts horror and pleasure. Let’s face it, you know that a tip wasn’t happening from them at this point anyways… you might as well get out with dignity intact.
Sadly, this was just one of the few stories with the overwhelming theme of treating public servants like a personal whipping post. We hold monetary compensation over their heads like a guillotine. One perceived slight, one wrong move and poof suddenly tipping becomes optional, and hostile behavior becomes acceptable. Let’s have a quick sidebar about tipping and other etiquette, because as I stated before, knowledge has the power to change beliefs a lot more than just my biased opinion on the matter.
I know I have another blog on this subject, but a lot of that was subjective. Let’s talk about some facts first through a little theoretical conversation.
Fact: Many people in the service industry make less than minimum wage… like… way less… the last server I talked to was making just over $3.00 an hour (I mean what the actual fuck… sorry… sometimes you still get a little opinion with your fact) and they quite literally pay their bills with money made from collected tips.
Refute: Well why don’t you just pay them “living wages”?
Fact: Sounds great, how would like to start paying $40 for that $20 steak? Nah? Didn’t think so. Wages are a massive expense for service businesses, most often, the highest expense of all.
Fact: Tipped employees actually pay taxes on their tips.
Refute: Why should I care, they should pay taxes like everyone else.
Fact: That is super, until someone decides not to tip on a $200 dinner bill. Here’s what happens next. Service industry members are required to self-report all the tips they make. Tips are always looked at by the IRS as a percentage of total sales. At some point, usually between the 8-15% of sales, the IRS accepts the reported tip amounts, anywhere below this, and it’s easy to get flagged for auditing as this is suspiciously low to the IRS. Given this, tipped employees will usually claim a minimum amount even if they do not receive any sort of tip on the sale. The outcome? Your server just claimed $20 in tips that they did not actually make, which means they will pay about $6 in taxes. They literally just paid $6 to serve you while you ate your meal. What… the… hell.
Fact: Not tipping is the same as theft.
Refute: Tipping is optional… I don’t believe in tipping... I don’t tip on “bad” service…
Fact: For some odd reason in this country tipping is still viewed as being customary instead of mandatory. Would you go to the oil express and have your oil changed and then drive away before paying because the attendant was busy and made you wait an extra 5 minutes to fill your tires? No you wouldn’t… because you would have the cops called on you… because it is stealing when you agree to pay for a service and don’t pay…People in the service industry are providing you with a service, and if you don’t recognize the value/ can’t afford this service, then stay home and change your own tires and prepare and serve your own food, because this shit costs money and time, and you don’t work for free, why should someone else have to?
Fact: Service can be good or bad.
Refute: Exactly, and no one should have to pay for bad service.
Refute: You are right, but let’s talk about how the notion of bad service is used inappropriately. What exactly constitutes bad service? Let’s use a restaurant as example. There are a few questions you should be able to ask yourself and deduce if the service is bad due to the fault of the server.
I really hope that someday that the culture of the industry can change, and everyone can be treated with the respect and dignity that they deserve. We can do better. Until that point, at least I will have plenty of blog material.
12/21/2017 07:10:04 am
WOW! If ever came a time that you loose the flair for distilling (undoubtedly you won't)! Writing flows from your veins so naturally. You smacked that nail on the head, and drove it in with one hit! There has got to be a service industry publication that this can be submitted too. If not, someone should start one!
12/22/2017 03:51:48 pm
I agree with you completely. I think an automatic 20% gratuity should be mandatory!
Just discovered your site (MyNorth article). I cannot wait to journey north to visit. I am thrilled with the emergence of a distilling culture in northern Michigan. It serves a nice counterpoint to the wine making scene. Rum is my chosen libation and I am eager to come by and give it a whirl. After reading the above I want to shake your hand as well. Well said!
11/23/2020 11:34:25 pm
Thhanks for this blog post
7/14/2022 12:59:52 pm
It is a lose-lose situation and the culture nurtured in the service industry is reliant on appropriate behavior by those receiving the service Thank you for taking the time to write a great post!
9/27/2022 01:30:18 am
Remember that the people providing the service are just people, they have good and bad days, and are just trying to make a living like the rest of us. Thank you, amazing post!
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